Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dead in Christ

An audio overview of the lesson by Raul Diaz.

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 Below is the Audio Script:

 The Dead in Christ

Memory Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:16 16

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

In this passage Paul continues to give to the Thessalonians what is lacking in their faith.  Now, as our lesson states this is important because, in this passage Paul not only corrects first-century misunderstandings, but he provides solid ground on which twenty-first century Christians can stand. “ ‘For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets’ ”(Amos 3:7, ESV). And through the prophetic ministry of the apostle Paul, the Lord has revealed to us wonderful truths regarding the nature of the Second Coming.  That said, this passage is as much about death as it is about Christ’s second coming.  In fact, you could argue that it is about how your belief about death has an effect how you interpret the events of Christ second advent.  Let us read the passage and then discuss it,

1Th 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
1Th 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
1Th 4:15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
1Th 4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
1Th 4:18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

There seems to have been the idea that though all of God’s faithful would share in the “world to come,” only those who were alive at the end would be carried up into heaven.  Those who died before the end would be resurrected and remain on earth.  In such a belief system, it would be a serious disadvantage to die before the end came. But it would also mean a separation between those taken to heaven and those left on earth. If the Thessalonians, Paul was writing to, lived until the end, they would truly ascend to heaven at the second coming of Jesus, but they would have to leave their deceased loved ones behind on earth (see 1 Thess. 4:13, 14).

As we can see, regarding the prophecy about the Second Coming, there were important things the church didn’t know and other things they would need to unlearn. It is not surprising, therefore, that Paul begins 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 with a comment about the church’s ignorance, rather than with “you know very well,” which appears elsewhere (1 Thess.5:2, NIV; see also 4:2). Ellen White says,

“The Thessalonians had eagerly grasped the idea that Christ was coming to change the faithful who were alive, and to take them to Himself. They had carefully guarded the lives of their friends, lest they should die and lose the blessing which they looked forward to receiving at the coming of their Lord. But one after another their loved ones had been taken from them, and with anguish the Thessalonians had looked for the last time upon the faces of their dead, hardly daring to hope to meet them in a future life.
“As Paul’s epistle was opened and read, great joy and consolation was brought to the church by the words revealing the true state of the dead. Paul showed that those living when Christ should come would not go to meet their Lord in advance of those who had fallen asleep in Jesus.”—Page 258.

As we think about prophecy, we must remember that it is not given to satisfy our curiosity about the timing and details of end-time events. Prophecy has an ethical and moral purpose.  God designed it to teach us how to live. It is intended to provide encouragement and purpose, especially in the midst of suffering and loss. Rightly understood, the prophecies of the Bible have life-changing power.  Prophecies are to increase our trust in God and reveal to us how much He loves and cares for us.

The Thessalonians misunderstanding of this subject was stealing away their joy, and Paul sought to restore that joy.  Death was only a temporary separation from their loved ones who died in Christ.  God would not forget them.  Paul says of those who died in Christ in Hebrews 11: 39 -40,

Heb 11:39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
Heb 11:40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

Those dead in Christ will receive the fulfillment of God’s promise with everyone else that will go to Heaven.  So, the good news to the Thessalonians was not only about their dead loved ones.  This was to confirm to them that Christ would return and that their beloved ones would not be forgotten and would receive the same reward as those who are alive when Christ returns.  In the meantime, they wait in the grave.  While this may bring joy to our hearts, our joy should not be complete, because God’s joy is not complete.  God waits, also.  But, unlike those dead, who lay in the ground unawares, God is very much alive.  Death not only separates from each other, but also separates God from those for whom He sent His Son to die.  So, Christ is eager to come.  So, why has He not come? 

The parable of the sower hints us as to why.  It says that a man sows a seed and the plant eventually grows yielding its fruit.  And at that moment the man “putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come."  We know that the man that sows and puts the sickle is Christ.  And, we are the plants.  What is the fruit?  Spiritually, it is the fruit of the Spirit: "…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5:22, 23).  This is a brief description of the righteous character of Christ.  Ellen White says,

Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.  {COL 69.1}

It is not an event that fulfills prophecy that is holding Christ back.  The groom will come when “His wife hath made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).  Christ must have a Bride, a corporate body of believers that demonstrate that the overcoming that Christ accomplished in His life, human beings who have a mature faith can also have through the indwelling Spirit of God.  They will “reflect” His character, like so many broken scraps of worthless mirror not shining on their own, but each perfectly reflecting another facet of His righteous character like a huge diamond.

“He that is dead is freed from sin” (Rom. 6:7), and no saint will come up in the resurrection still in captivity to it. All such slavery to sin is left in the grave. But apparently the 144,000, the last generation, so appreciate “the blood of the Lamb,” so clearly comprehend the length, breadth, depth, and height of agape, that self is truly “crucified with Christ.” They have died to sin, and as a corporate body are the “first fruits” to demonstrate it.

The truest fellowship with Christ is heart sympathy with Him in His concerns, as a bride who truly loves her husband is caught up with his concerns. Now she lives for him, one with him because she loves him. Is it possible that a world church can grow up to be so mature in relationship with the Son of God? All around the world there are those who hear the insistent call from Heaven. May He give us grace to respond!